Owain Gwynedd’s birthday

When was Owain Gwynedd born?  Here’s the truth:  no idea. Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Like Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, nobody seems to have recorded the date Owain Gwynedd was born, or even the year.  This is fine as far as it goes, because we can make some general estimates.  The problem arises when the birthdays for his many, many children haven’t been recorded either.  Nor his siblings.  Nor the dates of his marriages. My go-to-guide, John Davies History of Wales doesn’t discuss birthdays or ages, probably because he knows it’s fraught with difficulties, but many web sources try.  For example, here’s one huge root of the problem, the Wikipedia entry, citing a book by John Edward Lloyd  A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest (Longmans, Green & Co.) written in 1911.  This has Owain born c. 1100, Read more…

Women in Celtic Society

It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options: mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two. Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate. The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories. This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life. Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may not have had Read more…

Height in the Middle Ages

According to the report, “Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index (BMI) 1960-2002: United States,” from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the average height of a man aged 20-74 years increased from just over 5’ 8” in 1960 to 5’ 9 ½” in 2002.  At the same time, the average height for women increased from slightly over 5’ 3” in 1960 to 5’ 4” in 2002. If you visit houses built in the 18th century, however, door frames were much lower than they are now.  The obvious assumption, then, is that people were much shorter then, than they are now.  And they were.   But according to Richard Steckel, a professor at the Ohio State, it hasn’t been a steady change over time.  From his research, the average height of people who lived in the 9-11th centuries was comparable Read more…

Daily Living in the Middle Ages

The tapestry to the right is The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates, a Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520), located now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Depicted are the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin, draw out and cut the thread of Life, represent Death in this tapestry, as they triumph over the fallen body of Chastity. This is the third subject in Petrarch’s poem The Triumphs. First, Love triumphs; then Love is overcome by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity. Pretty gloomy, eh? From a modern perspective, life in the Middle Ages appears not to have a lot to recommend it.  For example, for the majority of women, their lives consisted of unceasing labor, hand-to-mouth existence, a total lack of political representation (although that was not much Read more…

Marriage in the Medieval Era

“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”  –Welsh proverb Marriage as we know it now is a new institution.  While ‘love’ (at least among the upper classes) transformed the internal workings of marriage in the modern age, in Wales prior to the Midde Ages, marriage was a contract between two families, with no relationship to the Church or State at all.  Even once the Roman Church got involved, it still had nothing to do with the State. Probably the change had something to do with taxes. Regardless, what we know of marriage in medieval Wales comes primarily from the Laws of Hywel Dda (see the footnotes in Wikipedia for the English sources):  “The second part of the laws begins with ‘the laws of women’, for example the rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married Read more…

Aberystwyth Castle

Aberystwyth Castle, located on the west coast of Wales, is one of the few large castles in Ceredigion proper.  To the east is mountainous terrain and it guards the entire north/south coast of Wales.  A fort has existed in the area since prehistoric times, and over the centuries, different peoples have added to, knocked down, and rebuilt multiple fortifications. The first ‘castle’ at Aberystwyth was on Pen Dinas.  It is an iron age hill fort, overlooking both the sea and the city of Aberystwyth.  It was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC. “The ridged top site is enclosed by a series of banks and ditches.There have been numerous finds on the site and most are now in the hands of the National Museum of Wales. They include a clay pot made in the Malvern Hills and Read more…

Anglo-Saxon Law (to 1066)

Anglo-Saxon law didn’t come to an end with the coming of William of Normandy in 1066, but it was definitely changed. Norman law was based in feudalism and heavily influenced by the Church.  Anglo-Saxon law had been developed over a long period of time and while influenced by Christianity in later centuries, was more egalitarian.  It was based on a system of courts, the main one being the ‘hundred court’.  “The hundred court met every four weeks, in the open if possible and usually at a prominent local landmark that gave its name to the hundred. The king’s reeve usually presided over the court. It had many functions, and was a mixture of parish council business meeting, planning enquiry, and magistrates’ court.  . . Edward the Elder decreed that the hundred courts were to judge the worthiness of every law-suit and Read more…

Women In Ancient Rome–Guest Post by Suzanne Tyrpak

Today I have a guest post by author, Suzanne Tyrpak.  Welcome, Suzanne! ________________      About seven years ago (before my divorce, when I had some expendable income) I traveled to Rome with a group of writers. I fell in love with Italy, Rome in particular. A travel book I read contained a short blurb about vestal virgins; it mentioned they were sworn to thirty years of chastity and, if that vow were broken, they would be entombed alive. That got me going! Plus, on a tour of the Coliseum, a guide pointed out the seats designated to the vestal virgins—the six priestess of Vesta were educated, and therefore powerful, at a time when most women weren’t even taught to read. Vestals were in charge of legal documents. They not only wrote these documents, in triplicate, but kept them secure within Read more…

Women in Celtic Myth

Women in Celtic societies had more freedom and autonomy than women in feudal Europe.  It is not surprising, then, that women play an important role in Celtic myth, beyond the wives, lovers, and mothers of male gods. Within Celtic myth, warrior goddesses such as Babd, Aoifa, and Scathach have a significant role; Don (Danu in Ireland) was the mother goddess, giving birth to male and female goddesses such as Gwydion and Arianrhod.   The Irish word, Tuatha de Dannan means “Children of Danu”, the equivalent of the Welsh “Sons of Don” as popularized in Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three series.  Note that their children are not referred to as “Sons of Beli” or “Bile”, who was her husband and the god of death. Also among the Welsh is Cerridwen, keeper of the cauldron of knowledge.  Within Irish mythology, the Morrigan, Read more…

Women in Celtic Society

It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options:  mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two.  Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate.  The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories. This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life.  Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may  not have had more autonomy, but their Read more…

Medieval Women, Riding, and the Side Saddle

Did women ride side saddle or astride in the Middle Ages?  To the right is a side saddle from the 17th century.  It is clearly designed to limit a woman’s ability to ride athletically–more of a way to carry her from one place to another at a walk, then as a sensible mode of transport. This saddle is, however, a later invention.  In England (and Wales) it appears that women in the Middle Ages rode astride much of the time, either on their own or pillion behind a man. Here are two pictures of women riding: The Prioress from The Canterbury Tales (dated to 1532) rides aside and The Wife of Bath (1410) rides astride (the Ellesmere Manuscript, c. the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA).  For more discussion  http://ilaria.veltri.tripod.com/sidesaddle.html  Riding astride is certainly far more practical, provided the dress or gown Read more…